Parental engagement without disruption: how one school app has helped an SEND setting to connect with families...
Parental engagement can be difficult for most schools, but when children arrive and leave in buses and taxis, speaking to parents is even harder. The Kingsdown School, part of the SEN Trust Southend Multi Academy Trust, supports 120 students up to 14 years of age with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD); 95% have a cognitive ability below pre-reception age.
Like many such schools, the children come from a broad catchment area in Southend-on-Sea and beyond, and 90% are brought into school via a transportation service. Here, Kingsdown’s SSA manager Donna Slattery shares the school’s journey to balancing its desire for strong parental communication with its necessary restrictions on family engagement.
“The staff at Kingsdown don’t have the same level of contact with parents that mainstream schools may have because few parents bring their children into our school. Added to this, while the children generally behave well at school it is a recognised fact that when parents come into school their behaviour will often change. It is for this reason that while parents come in for parents’ evening, sports days, celebration productions and annual progression meetings, they are not actively encouraged to come to the school during teaching hours.
“However, research shows that parental involvement in their children’s learning positively affects the child’s performance at school (Fan & Chen, 2001).
“Our desire to balance the value of parental engagement with the negative effect that the presence of parents has on the children’s behaviour led us to invest in a text message and parent mail-based home/school communication system. However, after several months of trialling the system, we realised that it wasn’t having the intended effect. It restricted us to sending out very dry text messages and in turn only about 50% of parents ever registered to receive the text messages. Because we could not guarantee that messages would reach all parents, we had to continue sending out paper-based letters. Bearing in mind the time and money it was taking us to post messages, the benefits just didn’t add up!
“Most people these days carry their mobile phone with them and therefore find it a lot easier to communicate via a school app, rather than having to log on to their computer. We decided to pilot an app that another local school was using, called Piota, rolling it out to one of our 12 classes, each with 10-12 pupils, at a time.
“The school app allows us to truly connect with the parents, even if we are not seeing them at the school gate. We have been able to post pictures with a caption or message on the app so that everyone can see, but we can also send them directly to the parents of each specific class.
“In addition to the fun photos we’re able to post, the information page of the school app includes a calendar of events, and school information. We are able to send out reminder messages to specific parents or classes about school trips, alerts, reminders and announcements.
“With 120 students on roll, we now have 722 mobile devices which have Piota downloaded; more than a 600% adoption rate from carers, grandparents and other family members. They have told us that the school app makes it easier to talk to them about their day when the get home and that it makes them feel like they are a part of their child’s school experience.
“Our new personalised school app is giving us the flexibility and freedom we need to be able to optimise our communication with parents; we are now able to bring them into their child’s learning in the most positive way.”